Health promotion is an integral part of pharmacy education and practice, and the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the vital role of pharmacists as part of a multidisciplinary team supporting the health of the nation. The pandemic has also highlighted the need to expand health promotion even further to address the exposed health disparities in our communities. We need to empower people to optimise wellbeing, supporting healthy immune systems to maximise the response to vaccines and further reduce risk from infection.
Pharmacy teams are vital to improving the public’s health and are a prominent social and health asset within all communities, although they are currently underutilised. Community pharmacy teams have a pivotal role to play in improving people’s health and helping to reduce health inequalities. Priority areas identified for preventative interventions and commissioned services include cardiovascular disease, smoking, sexual and reproductive health, healthy ageing, mental health and vaccination.
Community pharmacists have a long and excellent track record of delivering health promoting interventions with evidence of efficacy strongest for smoking cessation, health promotion, disease screening and preventive activities, provision of emergency hormonal contraceptive and vaccination services. However, further research is needed on how best to offer additional support for weight management and alcohol dependence within community pharmacy.
Health promotion also forms a vital part of the role of pharmacists in primary and secondary care. For example, in primary care, clinical pharmacists work as part of the multidisciplinary team with contracted responsibilities, which include the provision of ‘specialist expertise in the use of medicines whilst helping to address both the public health and social care needs of patients at the primary care network’s practice(s) and to help in tackling inequalities’.
In addition, pharmacists are also actively contributing to health aspects of the urgent green agenda, in work done routinely to address sustainability issues such as reducing waste and switching to ‘greener’ options. For example, where appropriate, pharmacists can help to reduce the use of metered dose inhalers, which contribute to most of the 3% NHS carbon footprint associated with inhaler use.
There is increasing interest from the pharmacy sector in taking on an even greater role in improving the public’s health in their communities, with many examples of innovative delivery and best practice. Pharmacy has been identified as having the potential to ‘accelerate the health promotion activities of the health system’ with improved quality of life and decreased costs. However, to realise this potential, barriers including legal, educational skill and pricing challenges must be addressed urgently.
The Institute for Health Promotion and Education (IHPE), now celebrating its 60th year, has long supported a diverse membership of professionals, including pharmacists, promoting public health through their work. IHPE members have an opportunity to work with an established network of healthcare professionals and experts in public health, with aligned missions and values and a supportive environment conducive to sharing ideas and good practice, with considerable experience in influencing policy.
The International Journal for Health Promotion and Education, which is free for members of the IHPE, provides a professional voice to a large audience. Members also have access to training materials, events and conferences, peer mentors and the opportunity to network and contribute to advocacy and public health consultations.
In the future, pharmacists and independent prescribers’ are set to play an increased role in public health as the government looks to enlist the support of professionals to tackle pressing public health priorities. By 2030, it is envisaged that pharmacy teams will have essential roles in preventing ill health by taking a holistic approach to care that goes beyond medicines. This will include the provision of lifestyle advice including using a social/green prescription approach, as well as referral to other services, such as link workers and third sector organisations.
We encourage more pharmacists to form partnerships with colleagues in public health to develop this vital role further and strengthen the advocacy needed in addressing the public health challenges we are facing.
Karen E Neil and Michael Craig Watson, both members and trustees of the Institute for Health Promotion and Education; and Afua Opare-Anoff, member of the Institute for Health Promotion and Education.
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